NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WAVY) — The Virginia Department of Health has sent a letter to a tenant of the Newport News airport asking them to reconsider holding a Donald Trump campaign rally Friday.
Either that, or scale the event down so it will meet the governor’s 250-person limit on gatherings during the coronavirus pandemic.
On Thursday, the Peninsula Health District sent a letter to Richard Martinez, general manager of Atlantic Aviation, the fixed-base operator at the Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport. The health department said the facility intends to sponsor, participate in or support the rally.
In the letter, Hampton and Peninsula Health District Director Natasha Dwamena called the Make America Great Again rally a “concerning public health risk” due to its possible attendance of up to 4,000 people.
The event is scheduled for 9 p.m. Friday in a hangar at the airport.
The president continues to hold rallies across the country ahead of this November’s election, many of which have attendees close together without masks.
A woman with Atlantic Aviation who answered WAVY-TV’s call Thursday said they were just providing the venue for the event and had no involvement in the logistics.
A letter from Gov. Ralph Northam’s office was also sent to Michael Giardino, executive director of Newport News/Williamsburg International Airport, on Thursday with a reminder about the governor’s restrictions on gatherings and face masks.
The airport’s rules and regulations state that “the Executive Director, or Assistant Airport Director, shall have the right … to deny the use of the Airport or any portion thereof … to any individual or group when any such action is considered to be necessary and desirable.”
Calls to the chairman of the Peninsula Airport Commissioners, Jay Joseph, were not immediately returned Thursday.
Only entertainment venues are allowed to host gatherings up to 1,000 as the governor’s orders currently stand. Willful violation of the governor’s executive order is a class 1 misdemeanor, which carries up to a year in jail time.
The health department’s letter to Martinez says it has received public complaints about the event and its potential to spread COVID-19.
Dwamena also wrote that “considerable evidence” shows that people who attend the MAGA rallies are not diligent about wearing masks and social distancing while at the events.
The Trump campaign also responded Friday to a request for comment.
“If people can riot in the streets, loot from small businesses, or, in the Virginia governor’s case, take a mask-less stroll along the beach, then they can peacefully gather under the First Amendment to hear the President of the United States address the American people,” said Courtney Parella, deputy national press secretary for the campaign.
Newport News and the surrounding areas are largely seeing declining COVID-19 numbers. The region’s percent positivity is below 7 percent after a surge in cases after the Fourth of July.
Like other Trump rallies, the event page requires attendees to sign a waiver that releases the campaign and venue from liability if a person catches COVID-19.
Trump is holding the rally to reach out to more voters in North Carolina, according to a Politico report.
Dr. Ben Melusky, an assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University, said while the population of North Carolina served by the Hampton Roads media market is strong, this will likely benefit the president.
“Even if it isn’t going to reach into areas of North Carolina which will really be impacted by it, the media markets more generally are talking about the impact of Trump on North Carolina as well too,” Melusky said. “North Carolina is a close state … the Newport News airport, it’s easy to stop in there and take care of that.”
The latest poll from Christopher Newport University finds former Vice President Joe Biden (D) leading Trump (R) by 5 points, 48 percent to 43 percent, among likely Virginia voters.
In response to the rally, the Biden-Harris campaign released an email Friday with a joint statement from former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and former North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt.
“President Trump is putting countless Virginians’ lives at risk in order to hold a political rally during a pandemic and prop up his chances in North Carolina. During this pandemic, he has failed the more than 200,000 Americans — including 3,000 in Virginia and 3,300 in North Carolina — who have died from COVID-19. But it’s not just that Trump lacks a real plan to contain the virus and save lives, his administration is actively trying to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, which will put the 3.5 million Virginians and 4.1 million Carolinians with pre-existing conditions at risk of losing their health care and raise health care costs for seniors.
“We need an administration that understands that we can’t jeopa rdize people’s access to health care in the middle of a pandemic. One that knows we need to expand people’s access to health care and build on the progress we made during the Obama-Biden Administration. With Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the White House, Americans will have a president and vice president who will fight for their health, their safety, and their futures every day.”
Similar letters from the governor’s office warning other airports in Virginia about gathering restrictions were also sent to the following people:
- Malcolm P. Branch, chairman of Norfolk International Airport
- Reid Wodicka, interim city manager in Lynchburg
- John E. Potter, president and CEO of Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority
- Patricia S. O’Bannon, chairwoman of Capital Region Airport Commission in Richmond
- Donald Long, chairman of Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport Authority
- Gregory W. Campbell, executive director of Shenandoah Valley Regional Airport
- Timothy T. Bradshaw, executive director of Roanoke-Blacksburg Regional Airport
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